Blind woman files discrimination complaint against Durham Parks & Rec

Joel Brown Image
ByJoel Brown via WTVD logo
Saturday, September 22, 2018

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Elvira Basnight is a tax-paying, adventure-seeking, Durham professional -- who also happens to be blind. She's been in an ongoing dispute with the Durham Parks and Rec department since last fall about DPR's Mature Adults Program. It's for residents 55 and older.

"They take trips, go places in Durham and do a few things," Basnight explained.

It's an active group doing things Basnight likes to do, unlike DPR's group for visually-impaired adults which includes, "knitting, crocheting, and support groups," Basnight said. "These are inactive activities. I don't wish to do those."

Back in April, Parks and Rec sent Basnight a letter, telling her DPR could not accommodate her need for a sighted guide on trips -- someone to hold onto while the group traveled.

The letter said she could have a friend or family member do it. But, here's the thing -- that person would also have to enroll and pay for the program.

"Let's face it, if I find someone to accompany me, why should they have to pay?" Basnight asked. "That means I would pay. So I'm being penalized for being blind because I would be charged twice."

The director of DPR's mature adults program was not in the office Friday. But in a statement, the department said it's "working to make sure our programs and activities are accessible to all Durham residents.

"We have a host of programs specifically designed for persons with disabilities ... and since (Basnight's) request for a sighted guide at no cost can impact policy and fees which are approved by city council, we would need to research the feasibility of approving this request."

For Basnight, it's been nearly a year and she's tired of waiting.

"I absolutely, (plan to keep fighting this) with everything I have," she said.

Basnight has held several meetings with DPR staff and directors. She even got a meeting with the Durham Mayor Steve Schewel to discuss the issue.

Now she's filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice -- citing her belief that the city is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.